Paying the price for law firm employment

Story looks at SMU's program that pays law firms to "test drive" new Law School graduates.

By Karen Sloan
The National Law Journal

Last spring, 3L Tim Hardesty wasn't having much luck landing a gig at a small or midsize firm in the Dallas area.

Cold résumé mailings landed him exactly zero interviews, and Hardesty grew increasingly nervous as graduation loomed with no job on the horizon. But Hardesty had an ace in his pocket: Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law was offering to pay legal employers to bring aboard its new graduates for a month — essentially a no-strings-attached monthlong job interview.

SMU's deal was sweet enough to entice three-attorney Barnett McNair Hall, an estate-planning firm in Dallas, to bring on Hardesty in August with an eye to hiring him permanently. "They couldn't afford to hire somebody without making sure they had enough work and they liked me," Hardesty said.

They did. And he has been a full-time associate at the firm since October.

In May 2011, SMU unveiled its Test Drive program, in which the school pays employers $3,500 to take in recent graduates for one or two months. Advocates said the program is an innovative way to help graduates get a foot in the employment door amid an exceptionally tight job market. Skeptics dismissed it as an attempt to game the U.S. News & World Report's law school rankings by inflating job-placement data.

With the first cycle of Test Drive nearly complete, SMU administrators say the program has been a rousing success, with 48 recent graduates going through the program — about 20% of the class of 2010. Of those graduates, 35 received offers for permanent jobs from their host employer. Another six are still in their trial phase and three are in longer-term trial periods that grew out of the initial Test Drive. The remainder either declined to complete the program or did not receive permanent offers.

"I would have been really happy with 10 permanent jobs coming out of Test Drive," said SMU's law dean, John Attanasio. "We're delighted with the thing. Basically, we thought this would empower students to go out and seek jobs, and they did."

Read the full story.

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